November 25, 2011
In 1852, in the city of New York, there were approximately 30,000 orphans roaming the city's streets. The children were ages two to sixteen and all were not truly orphans. Some had been kicked out of their homes by parents who could not take care of them due to the size of the family; some were runaways from parental abuse, and some were orphaned due to parents dying from disease. The children made due by begging and stealing. Others sold newspapers; swept floors in stores, restaurants, and sidewalks; peddled apples, oranges flowers, matches and toothpicks; and some even shined shoes. They had few clothes, and they were unwashed and half-starved. Some died from starvation, and many froze to death in the winter.
A young man named Charles Loring Brace—a native of Hartford, CT, and a graduate of Yale University—had come to New York to study for the ministry. He was horrified by the number of homeless children he saw daily and the way they were treated by the city. Some were put in jail and in run-down almshouses. In 1853, he met with a group of bankers, businessmen, lawyers and pastors; they established the Children's Aid Society. They tried to find individual homes for the children, but the number of children exceeded the number of homes available.
He came up with the idea of sending orphans west so people in the different towns and rural communities could become foster parents to these children. This idea worked well. The trains ran until 1929, and more than 250,000 children were placed in foster homes.
For more on the orphan trains, check out Orphan Trains To Missouri by Michael D. Patrick & Evelyn Goodrich Trickel. There are also some fiction books about the trains that are very good. The Little Sparrows by Al & Joanna Lacy is an excellent story.